Pretoria - In between a host of new recruits, Springboks and other talent, the Vodacom Bulls surprised by selecting former Boland Craven Week captain and No 8 Hanro Liebenberg to make his debut for the Vodacom Super Rugby side in their pre-season friendly against the Toyota Cheetahs in Polokwane on Saturday.
According to the supersport.com website, Liebenberg, the younger brother of former SA under-20 captain Wian Liebenberg, who led the Junior Boks to the IRB Junior World Championship in 2013, captained the Blue Bulls under-19 side to the final of their age-group competition last season and is destined for big things.
While it is only a warm-up match, the youthful exuberance that Liebenberg brings will be both an asset to the team and a massive test for the youngster as he looks to make an indelible impression on the coaching staff.
Liebenberg stands at 1.96m and 103kg and has the physical bulk, yet it was a bit of a surprise as it was expected the Bulls would opt rather for Jacques “Vleis” Engelbrecht or the returning Springbok Arno Botha for the clash.
Botha will make his return after two seasons of injury, with a 30 minute stint in the second half at the same venue where he tore his knee ligaments a year ago.
Regular captain Pierre Spies will sit out this week, but is scheduled to lead the Bulls in their final pre-season game in London against Saracens next week to mark his return to competitive action also after two seasons on the sideline.
New recruits Lappies Labuschagne and Trevor Nyakane, both who moved from the Cheetahs, will face their former team-mates in Polokwane for the first time as they were named in the side, with Labuschagne, regular fetcher Deon Stegmann and Liebenberg forming an interesting loose trio to watch.
Boks Handre Pollard and Adriaan Strauss will both be given more time to recover from foot injuries, with Pollard a definite chance to start against Saracens next week while Strauss is more likely to only play when the season starts next month.
Nyakane will have Boks Werner Kruger and Bandise Maku next to him in the front row, while SA under-20 flank Jacques du Plessis will make his move to four lock alongside the highly promising Marvin Orie this coming weekend.
At the back, the Bulls have employed a lot of youthful talent with William Small-Smith shifting to inside centre, with Bok JJ Engelbrecht on the outside, while wingers Jamba Ulengo and Travis Ismael get a chance to impress alongside the highly rated Jesse Kriel at fullback.
Jacques-Louis Potgieter will start at flyhalf, while Rudy Paige, who was called up to the Springboks but was injured in his first training session in Europe, will be the scrumhalf.
On the bench a number of veteran players are scattered among the young side, with Botha, Piet van Zyl, Jurgen Visser, Callie Visagie, Morne Mellett and Grant Hattingh all on the bench, while SA under-20 prop Dayan van der Westhuizen and Kriel’s twin brother Dan are also in the side.
15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Deon Stegmann (captain), 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Trevor Nyakane
Substitutes (from): Callie Visagie, Mornè Mellett, Dayan vd Westhuizen, Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, Grant Hattingh, Roelof Smit, Nardus van der Walt, Arno Botha, Piet van Zyl, Tian Schoeman, Dan Kriel, Ulrich Beyers, Duncan Matthews, Jurgen Visser